By total coincidence, three of us from Working Moms Against Guilt recently took our families to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Sara, Monica and I each had different ages and agendas to juggle, so we thought it would be helpful to share some of our experiences with you.
We’re by no means Disney experts. But if you’re a working mom planning a family trip to Disney, you might find some helpful Disney World tips here to make your own vacation as magical as possible.
Susan on making Disney magic
I admit, I’ve been dragging my feet for years on doing a Disney pilgrimage. It felt so commercial, artificial, expensive and over-the-top. But after going to a blogging conference hosted at Disney last fall, I couldn’t deny that my kids would absolutely love it. “Honey, let’s book a trip to Disney,” I told Hubs the night I returned from that conference. And we both agreed we wanted this to be a vacation our kids would always remember fondly.
Book with an authorized Disney vacation planner.
My friend Carla Gesell-Streeter has been a Disneyphile and travel agent for years, so she was the first person I consulted once we made the decision to go. I relied on her expertise and experience to choose the right time to go (turns out the week before the week of Christmas is ideal), the best Disney resort for our family and budget, and the package of park tickets, meals and other extras to suit our needs.
Carla’s advice not only saved us money; it also saved me hours of time researching online and agonizing over all the reviews and details before booking. She did the heavy lifting, and the best part? Her services were free of charge. What a deal! Get a free quote for a Disney vacation here—and be sure to request Carla Gesell-Streeter as your travel counselor if you want the same amazing service we had. Tell her WMAG sent ya 😉 I also highly recommend Carla’s Mouse Magic in a Minute podcasts for lots of quick tips to make your Disney vacation more magical.
Surprise your kids.
Sure, it’s practical to keep your children in the dark about their upcoming Disney trip (so you don’t have to answer the question “How many more days till Disney World, Mom?” eleventy million times). But it’s also immensely fun as a parent to plan this once-in-a-lifetime vacation and then spring it on your kids at the last minute. I think I had more fun imagining how we would tell the kids than I did on any ride at Disney.
In the end, we decided to wake them up (early, like 5:30 a.m.) the morning our flight left for Orlando and reveal the big news. Of course, we took a video to capture all the befuddlement, shock, joy and unexpected hilarity that ensued.
Get the Disney “Bible” for your trusty guide.
I’ve always been a fan of tour books—maybe because I’m a type-A nerd who likes the “inside scoop” on places I visit. As I trolled the Interwebz for extra tips, I saw this book touted as the best Disney guidebook on Simply Kierste, so I ordered it on Amazon: The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2015.
This guide was totally worth the price (less than $13), especially considering how much we spent on the whole vacation. Lots of good information and real-world advice that made our time at Disney more fun.
Just do what you feel like.
It’s easy to get caught up in all the “must-do” recommendations for Disney, whether they come from experts, family members, friends or random blogs. Resist the temptation you will inevitably feel to pack more into your vacation schedule. We probably spent as much time at the amazing Caribbean Beach resort pool as we did at the parks. And we had an absolute blast. I mean, water slides? Pina coladas? Hot tubs? Feels pretty good to me.
Another day, Hubs and the 5-year-old were feeling more low-key, so we allowed ourselves to sleep in, have a leisurely breakfast and check out the resort playground. Then, my 8-year-old and I popped over to Animal Kingdom for the afternoon while Hubs and James hit up the resort’s arcade and pool. We all got what we wanted, and it was delightful.
Focus on the present.
While at Disney, I tried my best to shut out all the usual distractions that often prevent me from really being “with” my kids. I didn’t try to sneak in work, social media, or “getting stuff done.” I used my iPhone primarily to figure out which ride we’d hit next (the My Disney Experience app was super useful) rather than to stay in touch.
Instead, I relished many wonderful opportunities to simply hold my kids’ hands. Listen to them squeal with delight as they whooshed down the water slide. Meet Mickey Mouse for the very first time. “Fly” over the forests and mountains of California on the Soarin’ ride at Epcot. Land a space shuttle on Mars. Hear them say, just before falling into a totally dead sleep, “Mom, I love Disney World.” Yep, worth every penny.
Sara’s top Disney tips
Stay on the property.
I’m always looking to cut costs, and my first temptation was to save money by booking a hotel near the parks but not in the Disney footprint. I’m so glad I thought better of that. When I compared prices, staying at one of Disney’s “Value Resorts” didn’t cost much more than staying at a non-Disney hotel, and we got the convenience of reliable shuttles, food courts and other amenities that accepted our Magic Bands, and, of course, Disney’s famous customer service.
Do the Magic Bands.
I’m not sure if this is even an option anymore for those doing the full Disney package. Magic Bands seemed to be the default when we were there. But if you find yourself with a choice, then I recommend them. All your information—park tickets, room keys, etc.—is stored on your band. And purchases go straight to your credit card with just a tap and a PIN. No need to carry cash.
Pack your own snacks.
Food is expensive at Disney, but they let you bring your own into the park. We saved money by bringing our own Pop Tarts, etc. for breakfast at the hotel, then packing granola bars and other easy-to-carry snacks to take to the parks. Of course, we still bought hot dogs and other treats, but our snacks took the edge off. And we were glad we had them when we got stuck in a two-hour line for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Coaster. (Friendly hint: that particular coaster was NOT worth the wait.)
Stay long enough to relax.
Don’t try to cram a Disney vacation into a couple of days. The best way to enjoy a theme park is to come and go, riding rides until everybody’s pooped, then taking a break at the hotel pool (or a nap in a hotel bed) and coming back to the park when the family is refreshed. If you’re racing to experience everything before your time runs out, then you’ll stress out about lines, you’ll feel trapped, and you won’t have “a magical day.” We stayed five days and visited three parks, missing Epcot because it poured rain. But we drove to the beach instead, and it was lovely. We were able to appreciate everything at a leisurely pace.
Rent a locker if the weather looks iffy.
The forecast called for rain most of the time we were in Orlando. Rather than buy expensive ponchos, we brought our own umbrellas and raincoats, then stashed them in a locker at the front of the park. For just $12, it was a great way to be prepared without spending money that could have gone toward something more fun.
Ask before you ride.
Many of Disney’s most intense rides are indoors, so it’s impossible to see whether they might be too scary for younger kids. Luckily my 5-year-old is a daredevil, because we ended up taking her on Space Mountain, the Tower of Terror, and the Aerosmith Rock & Roll coaster. Had I known, for example, that the rock & roll coaster went upside down, I probably wouldn’t have taken her. She loved it, but I felt sorry for other families who were similarly surprised and whose kids aren’t as daring. If you’re not sure whether a ride is appropriate, ask before getting in line. We saw one mother force her terrified daughter into a coaster car because they’d waited more than an hour and she didn’t want that time to go to waste. Yikes!
Fast Passes are a no-brainer.
Disney Fast Passes ensure that you get to ride at least a few things without standing in long lines. The Fast Pass system is easy to figure out, and it’s simple to update your passes if you change your mind about what you want to do. But don’t feel like you have to use all your Fast Pass. A few times, we found ourselves waiting around a park just to take advantage of a late Fast Pass. We found that getting in line actually got us to the experience sooner, and then we were able to get out of there. Be flexible!
Monica’s take: Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party
I’ve been going to Disney World since I was 5 years old at various times throughout the year, but when I was a kid it was always during Easter break. I have never been at Disney during Christmas and it was a very special treat to witness the magic of Disney at Christmas time.
I read a lot before going and decided that focusing on doing the unique events offered during the party was a much better idea than trying to do any of the rides which we have done a TON of times. Here are some of my observations from Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party:
- My daughter is 2, so I can appreciate not wanting to keep your kids out late. If you can swing it, skip the first parade and see the second one. Why?The Elsa & Anna meet and greet had sold out FastPass+ tickets for months, but we decided to try to go when the first parade was happening. We only had to wait 20 minutes and my daughter got a private session with both of them.
- It snows on Main Street! I’m from Buffalo, NY,and this is still really a big deal.
- Free hot cocoa and cookies? Yes, please!
- All the characters are dressed in their holiday best.
- We met several characters in a very short time span by lining up about 10 minutes prior to the characters’ scheduled arrival, including Winnie the Pooh & Friends and Christmas Minnie.
- Do NOT skip the main special shows. This year’s was “A Frozen Christmas” and it was so worth seeing. When the castle lit up, the snow started on Main St.—swoon!
Do you have your own Disney tips or observations to share? We’d love to hear about them in the comments.
6 thoughts on “Disney World Tips”
I love hearing everyone’s perspective on Disney – and as an Orlando resident I love hearing about folks bringing their tax dollars to my town! One of the tips I’ll share for those with younger children is about the baby centers. Each park has at least one dedicated baby center which has lots of changing tables (way better than a public restroom!), private rooms with rocking chairs for nursing babies, and lots of baby supplies for sale (ran out of diapers…the baby center can help!). That said, it’s not just a great place for babies. Each baby center has a room with a television playing Disney movies and small chairs – perfect for little people who might just need a break from the crowds or the Florida heat. And there are water coolers where you can fill up with cold water for the whole family (for free!).
Thanks for the tip, Stephanie. We purposely waited until our kids were older to go to Disney (although, as I said, I was dragging my feet for other reasons, too). I saw so many families with crying, miserable babies (and parents) at Disney. I’m sure the baby centers help make it easier. But still, not ideal.
Disclaimer: I am a SAHM but stumbled across your blog… can’t say I agree with everything (or even most) of what you say here, but I feel compelled to comment on this.
Wow… please don’t tell people not to take young kids to Disney! If you saw “crying, miserable babies (and parents)” then that is simply because they didn’t know what they were doing.
I’m 27 years old, from Chicago, and have been going to Disney World at least twice a year every year since I was born, so I am something of a WDW expert. Our first planned trip with our child was last February, when our son was 3.5 months old. Turns out my husband couldn’t come with us due to work-related issues, so I decided I would just take the baby myself. I wore him in a carrier all week since I didn’t want to fuss with a stroller in the airport. It was a breeze. The Baby Care Centers are indeed magnificent. I had no problems at all and it was literally just my very tiny infant son and myself in our DVC villa at Bay Lake for a week. We navigated the Monorail, the slow rides, ate at restaurants, etc… (it was rather trippy eating spaghetti one-handed at Tony’s with the baby in a carrier; I will grant you that!). Cast members were so incredibly helpful to me since I was there alone with him. Everyone was like, “You’re so brave for taking this tiny, tiny baby to Florida by yourself for a whole week!” But I knew WDW could be – and would be – absolutely no problem at all with a baby. Cast members are there to help, and we were going in the off-season. Both key factors!
We went again with him in July when he was 9 months old – NOT off-season, very hot, and he was much more squirmy on the airplane, it should be noted. But this was a month after he’d flown to Paris and back, so we had plenty of experience traveling with him. He did wonderfully, again, and we had a fantastic twelve days, this time with our whole family.
Disney World can be an absolutely delightful place for very small children. Just because they can’t form long-term memories doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take them. The visual, auditory, olfactory, etc. stimuli are incredibly good for children’s neurological development. Besides which, it’s just plain fun! The key is to stay relaxed and laid back and just go with the flow. Don’t get stressed out! I’m not sure why you have to make a blanket statement that all babies in Disney World are whiny or whatever and discourage people from taking small children to WDW. That’s terrible advice, in my opinion.
My very earliest memories are of Disney World, but I’ve been all over the world, too. I have an awful lot of nostalgia associated with WDW, and a Disney Vacation Club membership was my wedding gift from my parents. We are so excited to take our son there at least once-twice a year to help build similar strong nostalgic traditions and memories for him. I’m sorry that you have such negativity in your mind… like, not just of Disney World but in general.
Oh, also… not to sound rude, but if you stayed at a “Value Resort” on Disney property… I’m glad you stayed on Property. Definitely. Way better than staying off-Property. But I had to stay at the Pop Century when we were testing out the room block hotels for my sister’s wedding (she got married at the Grand Floridian in 2009). I felt like the Pop Century was a glorified motel… and the clientele left quite a bit to be desired. It was chaotic, loud, not at all relaxing. It felt obnoxious there. We did not care for it at all. If you go back, I would tell you that it is well worth the small upcharge to stay at a nice Moderate-level resort — I am particularly partial to The Wilderness Lodge.
There are some excellent ideas here. Thanks for sharing!